WikiLeaks is an excellent idea, but like all ideas, its actual execution has been somewhat flawed. Not fatally, but badly enough. Here are five suggestions for what they can do to make WikiLeaks better for everyone.
Broaden your selection of targets
So far, WikiLeaks has done a great job of embarassing the United States government and certain of its allies. But the US government, big and tempting target though it may be, is not the only government out there. There are many other governments with dirty secrets of their own, and often with far more repressive political cultures. WikiLeaks can and should be trying to hold China, Russia, and every other country down to Liechstenstein or San Marino to account.
Moreover, to assume, as WikiLeaks appears to, that political power is the only sort of power in this world is to sorely misunderstand the nature of power. WikiLeaks should also be targetting corporations, organised religions and assorted other groups. Imagine what WikiLeaks could do if they turned their attentions on the Catholic Church’s assorted sex scandals, for example. Or on the internal processes of Monsanto, or BP, or McDonalds. Hell, if they paid some attention to the Essendon Football Club.
Protect your sources
There’s two very good reasons why Edward Snowden mostly hasn’t bothered with WikiLeaks, despite his actions being exactly the kind of thing that makes them salivate: the first of them is Bradley Manning. WikiLeaks has done nothing to aid Manning – it provided not protection, and hasn’t even tried to help him in his legal defence. This sort of attitude to their sources isn’t likely to endear them to any future would-be leakers or whistleblowers, and in the long term, WikiLeaks will lose its reason to exist without these people. To be fair, they have tried to provide some assistance to Snowden in his attempts to remain at large, but in general, this is an area in which they lag sadly behind traditional media institutions.
Do the work
The other reason for Snowden’s lack of involvement is that WikiLeaks, in its short history, has proven very willing to pat itself on the back. The organisation – and most especially its front man, Julian Assange – often gives the impression that they’re in it far more for the glory than the actual work. Which is fine, except that real people like Bradley Manning are suffering while members of WikiLeaks play at being revolutionaries. If they’re as serious about the work as they claim, they need to actually do the work, regardless of the glory.
WikiLeaks needs to understand that it is the messenger, not the message; the tool, not the work. And its actions need to reflect this understanding.
Speaking of tools, WikiLeaks’ single greatest liability is its Bond-villain-wannabee leader. The cult of personality that has grown around this man only goes to demonstrate my preceding point even better. Assange gives every impression of wanting the spotlight more than the actual struggle – indeed, in recent interviews, he’s seemed jealous of the attention currently being paid to Snowden.
WikiLeaks needs to reduce his importance to the organisation, so that his obvious egotism and arrogant personal style will not get in the way of doing the work. The world at large needs to understand that WikiLeaks does not equal Julian Assange, and vice versa. That way, the personal fortunes of Assange will not unduly impact the work of WikiLeaks, as it appears very much that they currently do. Perhaps the simplest way to do this would be to designate spokespeople other than Assange, preferably more than one of them so that the same situation does not simply recur with Assange’s replacement.
Eggs and Baskets
And it’s not just multiple voices that WikiLeaks needs to speak with. There are more things in it that could stand to be multiplied.
While I am quite sure that WikiLeaks has many, many backups for its data, it would also be better if the organisation itself was backed up. Multiple smaller WikiLeaks-like organisations, which could pool knowledge and funds for defence and distribution, would present a more difficult prosecutorial target (think of the ease of stopping Napster, as opposed to Napster’s successors), while also making the base activity that WikiLeaks depends upon more attractive to the people they depend upon to leak things to them. The danger with this are mostly territorial: no group should specialise in particular types or geographical sources of leak, and politics between the groups themselves must be aggressively prevented.